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When it comes to husband/wife relations, many people in the church believe there are only two potential choices: either a woman obeys her husband’s every wish or she dishonors him and is guilty of sin. This is an example of what is called a false dichotomy: presenting two and only two options when in fact others exist.
Do you remember the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25? Abigail went against her husband’s wishes, displaying great wisdom and actually saving his life. In doing so she also confronted the future king with the reality that he was about to dishonor the Lord. This was a bold and risky move for a woman of the time.
And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” – 1 Samuel 25:32-35
Soon after this, the Lord took Nabal’s life. David proposed to Abigail and she accepted.
And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” – 1 Samuel 25:41
In her exquisite humility, Abigail unknowingly bore the image of the Christ she would never see this side of glory.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. – (John 13:3-5)
It’s impossible to know for sure how Nabal would have reacted to his wife had he lived, but we do have a lot of insight into his character from this passage (1 Samuel 25:3, 1 Samuel 25:10-11, 1 Samuel 25:17). I have counseled several ladies who are married to similar men.
Men like Nabal want to sit on the thrones of their own lives. When others, especially their wives, honor and serve them, they see it as their due. Gentle, kind responses don’t soften them like they do some people (Proverbs 15:1).
So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
Nabal died in his unrepentant hard-heartedness despite the gracious testimony of his wife.
When a person desires to make himself like the Most High (Isaiah 14:14) and he resists pleas for repentance, he often resorts to lying, slandering, and physical violence to keep his kingdom intact (John 10:10, Revelation 12:10, John 8:44). If you mouse over the verses in this paragraph, you will see a pattern: each of the characteristics I’ve described reflects not Christ but the enemy of our souls.
Our Lord calls us His own and gives us our identity in Him (Isaiah 43:1). In contrast, the Nabal-like husband wants his wife to define herself in terms of himself, not her Lord. He doesn’t understand he’s taking authority that belongs to God alone.
And when the church defines godly womanhood as being a submissive wife, sometimes they help him in this end. It’s important we don’t confuse ontology and role; it dishonors the Lord and it hurts his children.
Ontology is what a woman is—namely, an image bearer of the living God. If she is a wife, that is a role only. This role is not her identity and it will not endure into eternity (Matthew 22:30).
Our response to this woman, one way or another, is profoundly theological (James 4:6). Make no mistake about that. You are saying something important about the Father when you respond to women like this. In some sense these women are widows and their children are orphans (Deuteronomy 10:18, James 1:27). Please protect them, Church.
Sometimes, thankfully, men like these do change in response to godly church restoration (Matthew 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1-2). It would be ungodly and unloving not to pursue him to this end. It would be easy to think of this man the way Jonah saw the Ninevites and to sin against him in our desire to help his family. Clearly, we must not do this.
If he doesn’t repent, Scripture tells us to put him out of the church’s midst, both for the protection of the church and to warn others of the seriousness of sin (1 Timothy 5:20, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). When this happens, are you prepared to protect the wife and children, too? They are part of the church.
If the wife chooses to leave (1 Corinthians 7:11, Exodus 21:11), it would be wise to contact a domestic violence group or someone else who is educated on spousal abuse to help her with a safety plan. Women are in heightened danger when they leave, even if their husbands have never been physically violent before.
If we as people helpers are to bring wise aid to folks in this situation, it’s important that we remember it was the husband who blasphemed God and dishonored the covenant of marriage, not the wife. He chose to bear the image of Satan instead of Christ, thus marring the picture of the gospel the Lord intends to paint in marriage (Ephesians 5).
Many wives will choose to stay, but some will not. Either way, these women will need help believing the truth about themselves rather than the lies their slanderers hurl at them (Philippians 4:4-9, Romans 8:31-39). Some will react in self-righteous anger for a time; if this is the case, I beg you to care for them with love and patience. Most of these women respond very well to compassionate care in a safe environment.
This is a complex issue, much of which cannot be addressed in a short article. If we may serve you, please ask your questions here.
Note: Men live with harsh wives at times. This is true. But a woman’s size and strength relative to a man’s and her biblical call to submit make her vulnerable in a way a man usually isn’t.
If you are a man who is being abused, please get help.